Happy to announce that our new series of interviews with inspirational photographers from around the world opens up with Manchester-based photographer Lee Jeffries. After training his lenses on sport events, he changed the direction of his photography to artistic and intimate portraiture. Best-known for his Lost Angels project, Lee is currently immersing himself into street photography. Let’s find out more about the story behind his photographic journey.
GM: Could you please tell us about your first encounter with photography? What made you start as a photographer?
LJ: I first picked up a camera to shoot products for a cycling business I ran. As time went on those shots became more artistic and I found myself exploring other subjects too. I think everybody now knows the story of me being in London and meeting a young homeless girl… it was at that point that I honed my interest in portraits.
GM: Many of the portraits you take are so emotionally charged. How do you interact with your subjects?
LJ: I’m very much a project based. I have to go to areas and completely immerse myself in the community. I’m not there to take photographs actually, more to experience the beauty of people who live there. I spend all my time with to the point where I’m effectively accepted as being part of that community myself. The photographs I make are very much the final piece of an emotional journey. I’ve said it many times, in a strange sort of way I fall in love with the people I meet. Knowing I may never see them again I use the photograph as an avenue to let go… say goodbye if you like.
GM: Light and shadow play an essential role in your photographs. How do you achieve that powerful contrast?
LJ: I’m not so great at teaching technique. I think the biggest piece of advice I could offer in this respect is to experiment. Try different things with your camera and of course the available light. Having the ability to interpret a situation in terms of the light and shadow presented to you (I never create my own light) can only be learned with experimentation and then experience.
GM: Is there any editing software you prefer? How much time do you spend on retouching your shots?
LJ: I’m emotionally involved with every image I release. For that reason I can linger over the processing for quite long periods. Not because I’m necessarily doing anything to the image… more the fact that I find this time “with the image” really quite self-fulfilling both emotionally and intellectually.
GM: What camera gear do you currently use? Do you take with you any additional equipment on a shooting day?
LJ: Nikon D810E. Nikon 24mm lens. Nothing else.
GM: Where do you find inspiration? Could you name a few photographers that you consider influential for your style?
LJ: Stephen Vanfleteren and James Nachtwey. It’s not their technical skills I find influential… more the fact that they “get it”. They “feel” their subjects. They have an inherent understanding of what lies beneath their subject matter and because of that they can eloquently present something that’s meaningful to all of us. I hope very much my images do the same.
GM: How would you define your photography in three words?
LJ: Emotional. Religious. Human.
GM: If you could start again as a photographer is there anything you would do differently? Are there any sectors you’d like to explore more?
LJ: Life “happens” and my photographic journey is no different. It’s been born of experiences and from pieces of people I love. I’m happy for it to be out of control in this way… It makes everything pure and ensures it comes from the right place.
GM: If it weren’t for photography, what else would you do?
LJ: I’m actually a full time accountant… so if it wasn’t for accountancy I would be doing much more photography ;-).
GM: Any words of wisdom for photography enthusiasts at the beginning of their journey?
LJ: I was just having this same conversation with a school pupil. Yes, learning the technical skills is very important….but be resolute on how you combine those skills with your own artistry. Artistry is inherent and can sometimes be stifled by over emphasis on the text book approach. Be confident in what you want to show and how you want to show it.
GM: What’s next for you in photography? What are your future projects?
LJ: Done work for Terry Malick. I’ve taken on a few commissions too, the cover image for Gin Wigmore’s new album for example. I’m never happier than when I’m out on the street so there will be plenty more to come.
Thanks to Lee for sharing his photographic experience with us.